Retired Pastor Reviewed Worship Services


[caption id="attachment_3982" align="alignright" width="300"]christy-thomas-2015_from_kats-582x388 The Rev. Christy Thomas, retired United Methodist pastor, spent a year reviewing worship services for her local paper. Photo by Jeff Smith, Heirloom Portrait[/caption] By Sam Hodges DALLAS (UMNS) She sat silently among Quakers. She had her ear drums nearly punctured by amped-up praise bands. She breathed incense with the Greek Orthodox, and joined a hot chocolate-sipping cowboy church crowd. As a newly retired United Methodist pastor, the Rev. Christy Thomas attended worship at 50 different places from summer 2014 to summer 2015, and wrote about her experiences as a columnist for the Denton (Texas) Record-Chronicle. There were highs and lows, and the lows were way down there. “There were about five churches I went to where I walked out the door and said,  ‘Get me to the nearest bar,’” said Thomas, 66. Many United Methodists know Thomas as a blogger who has written candidly and passionately on a range of denominational issues, including the Bishop Earl Bledsoe controversy in 2012. As pastor of First United Methodist Church in Krum, Texas, Thomas also wrote columns on the Christian life for the Krum Star newspaper and the Record-Chronicle in nearby Denton, about 40 miles north of Dallas. Thomas retired as pastor in December 2013, in part to spend more time writing. The Record-Chronicle’s managing editor, Scott Parks, decided she should continue her column but model it after one that Rice University professor William Martin used to write for Texas Monthly magazine. Martin, a biographer of Billy Graham, would visit a place of worship somewhere in Texas and write about the service. Parks really liked that idea. “I was always fascinated by the idea of a knowledgeable and credible person going to visit different churches and then reporting on what he found,” he said. Thomas had known Martin when she was an undergraduate at Rice, and had majored in anthropology there. So she was game to follow Martin’s example and bring her social science background to bear. Her worship review columns began last summer and appeared almost every week for a year. She reported on her visits to a wide range of churches, as well to a Reform Jewish Shabbat service and Muslim prayers. Though she has collected the columns on her website under the title “Mystery Worship Series,” Thomas always introduced herself before the service to an usher or the pastor, and explained what she was doing. “That was Scott’s request,” she said. “He wanted to make sure this was above board, that people didn’t feel that I had snuck in or not been up front.” Welcomes, warm and otherwise Thomas’ accounts were, in the main, reportorial, offering a visitor’s perspective. She would cover everything from parking to the quality of the sound system to the availability of gluten-free communion bread to the organization of the sermon. Almost always, she would note the welcome she received. “I am often ignored when I, an older woman, walk into a church alone,” she wrote in one column. “Immediate greetings come if I am accompanied by a male companion. The greeters swarm all over us if I have young people with me. But we older women aren’t called invisible for nothing.” (The church she was visiting that Sunday —  St. Andrew Presbyterian in Denton — was a happy exception, with members greeting her warmly.) Thomas had many good experiences, including at two United Methodist churches she reviewed: First United Methodist in Denton, and Hollywood United Methodist in Los Angeles. She found herself deeply moved by the highly liturgical Greek Orthodox service she attended, and by a far simpler Quaker service she attended. (United Methodists, Thomas believes, could learn a lot about holy conferencing from Quakers.) Of Friendship Baptist, an African-American church in The Colony, Texas, Thomas would write glowingly: “I was enveloped and engulfed by the music, led by this exquisite set of voices, highlighted by two soloists. I was near tears by the time they finished, steeped in a sense of the holy presence of God, touched by the expressions of response by various members of the congregation during this time.” When Thomas had a bad experience, her reports for the newspaper were restrained — notable more for lack of enthusiasm than for outright criticism. But she would post the columns on her blog and then offer more commentary, a kind of director’s cut of her impressions. Of one megachurch where she heard the prosperity gospel preached amid aggressive appeals for money, Thomas wrote on her blog: “I think it is the most evil place I have ever seen.” The prosperity gospel, Neo-Calvinist theology, lousy biblical exegesis and any worship service where the pastor and praise band’s performance seemed to matter more than the congregation’s involvement in worship — all these were subjects for hot comment on Thomas’ blog. When any of those elements was combined with male-only church leadership, she felt even more need to vent. Thomas spent years in conservative church circles, including as a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. While grateful for the academic rigor there (especially the grounding in Hebrew and New Testament Greek) she ultimately rebelled against its theology and restrictions on women as ministers and found her way to Southern Methodist University's Perkins School of Theology and The United Methodist Church. The year as worship service reviewer wore on her as she often went to churches of a kind she’d fled years ago, as well to other churches whose theology and worship style she found objectionable. “If I had not been well-grounded as a Christian, I would have lost my faith,” Thomas said. A new gig This summer, she and Parks agreed she needed for her sake to end the reviewing column. But they came up with an alternative. Both are fans of the “Dear Prudence” advice column on Slate, so Thomas has in recent weeks been writing something similar for the Record-Chronicle under the title “Ask the Thoughtful Pastor.” Thomas had expected to get light-hearted or basic factual questions, but readers have asked about abortion, biblical inerrancy and the value of prayer. So Thomas has been giving her opinions — in a pastoral tone, but with no varnish. The questions keep coming, and there have been letters to the editor about her column too. “People like it or hate it,” Thomas said. “But they’re reading it.” Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or

Resources for Vital Congregations



Lewis Center for Church Leadership

Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Books

Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Serve Your Neighbor

GBHEM Leadership Resources


Living Faithfully: Human Sexuality and the United Methodist Church

Englewood Book Review

Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations

Ted Talks: The Golden Circle

Ted Talks: The Power of Vulnerability

Ted Talks: The Price of Invulnerability

Design Thinking

Meditations on the Ministry of All Christians


Be A Disciple

A Disciple’s Path; A Guide for United Methodist

Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Adult Christian Studies from the Wesley Ministry Network

Traveling Together: A Guide for Disciple Forming Congregations


Living As United Methodist Christians

Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials

Reclaiming our Wesleyan Tradition: John Wesley’s Sermons for Today

John Wesley Sermons: Anthology


Get Their Name

Evangelism & Theology in the Wesleyan Spirit

Canoeing the Mountains

Fresh Expressions

Fresh Expressions: Dinner Church

Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Reach New Disciples

Lewis Center for Church Leadership: 50 Ways to Reach People

Community: The Structure of Belonging


Institute for Emerging Issues

Congregations 4 Children


The Royce and Jane Reynolds Ministry Fund Grants

The Duke Endowment


The Appalachian District Church Vitality Team has been prayerfully seeking ways to help support you and the ministries of your local congregation during this COVID-19 pandemic. Together they have diligently researched and connected with others throughout the conference and our denomination to identify resources and offer them to you. We hope they will be helpful to you and bless you greatly in leading your churches and communities through this unprecedented time. We are very grateful to the District Vitality Team and other contributors for their great work on this resource.
This faithful team has created three documents, two of which you are receiving today. They include:

  • Family Home Worship – designed to help families establish a regular worship space within their homes as well as a time where they can worship together.
  • Tech Strategies – to help guide you in selecting effective tools and resources within your budget to best communicate in the digital world.

We believe these resources will be of great benefit to you. Also know that the District Vitality Team is available to answer any questions you might have in regards to the documents attached. If you have questions, you may email Rev. Howard Fleming at